No Longer Home manages the feat of being both intensely personal and broadly relatable. This is an account of student life at the moment when the teaching finishes, the band breaks up, student accommodation is vacated, and relationships are exposed to their first tugs of tension. On the one hand, it’s a semi-autobiographical story about Cel Davison and Hana Lee, the two developers at Humble Grove, and how they handled this mini-divorce. But on the other hand, it’s a universal tale, one of separation, and the feeling that our futures are approaching at a speed that we can’t handle.
Rather than play as the developers by name, you’re playing as Ao and Bo, presumably named to help the empathy along – these could very well have been character A and character B. They’re a couple who both represent as non-binary, living in a house-share in a south London suburb. Over a span of time that can only be a few weeks, you play as both of them, as they come to terms with Ao’s visa expiring (Ao is a Japanese student), the rent coming to an end, and the impending expectations of starting a career.
No Longer Home keeps its focus solely on the house, only moving out of it for a prologue and epilogue. It’s claustrophobic, as you learn the house intimately, and effectively experience the same shut-in life that Ao and Bo share. They’re introverts, and tend to spend their time playing games, hosting barbecues for friends, and working on their various art projects.
Playing No Longer Home is simple. You’re handed control of either Ao and Bo, and you have – in most instances – the entire house to explore. A few points of interest, represented by an eye, can be examined to give you an insight into both characters, but you’re generally aware of an overriding objective: to get some food for the barbecue, or to go to sleep, for example. If you race to the objectives, No Longer Home will be over in about half an hour, so it’s more about languidly exploring and inhabiting the space you have been given.
It’s in the use of space that No Longer Home triumphs. Flicking RT and LT will spin each room at a ninety-degree angle, so you can spot new things to examine. No Longer Home doesn’t actually hide as much as you’d think: there aren’t any significant Easter Eggs in the crannies of the house, although it is enjoyable to uncover the odd item of interest. But No Longer Home really comes into its own with its theatrical use of space.
While you are talking to someone, the perspective might shift and walls, roofs and furniture will be gurneyed out like you’re in a high-concept theatrical performance. In one superb moment, Ao, Bo and their friends sit down to play a computer game, and the walls lift up to put them inside the environment of the game. It’s a magical effect, and No Longer Home is puckish about how it uses this trick. Characters will sit and look at the night sky, before the perspective shifts and puts them among the stars. It breaks this dialogue-heavy game up, adding interest, but it also adds vital commentary too. As the characters talk about the infinite possibilities in front of them, the world literally opens up and presents them with their paths.
It’s a magic-realist streak that is consistent throughout No Longer Home. We have to be careful not to reveal too much here, as we came in cold and benefited from that, but characters and geometric shapes intrude on the house, and Ao and Bo are incredibly nonchalant about them. There’s a sense that the two characters are imprinting on the house in some way, their emotional states running rampant, and it gives No Longer Home a sense of a world that’s holding back its monsters. It feels like the world is teetering on a precipice, which is reflected in the characters’ states of mind.
These magical moments are so successful that you want more of them, or for No Longer Home to feel brave enough to go off-path and follow them for a period, as they do with the computer game sequence. The magic glimmers so brightly in No Longer Home that you wish they stuck around for longer.
When you’re not wandering the house, you’re talking, and No Longer Home has a novel approach to that, too. There are branching dialogue trees, but you’re not only choosing a response, you’re choosing who’s giving it. None of the dialogue choices matter – there’s not even an achievement tied to them – but the ability to make quiet characters pipe up, or dominate the conversation with someone talkative is fascinating. We can imagine other games picking it up and doing more with it.
What’s talked about is divisive, but not because it toys with controversial subjects. Ao and Bo are hugely introspective – Bo even comments that they “live too much in their heads” – and they will talk at length about their issues. A sequence towards the end, where the two lie in bed contemplating the nature of human purpose, is extremely long, taking up about fifteen consecutive minutes of reading. The amount of text isn’t necessarily the problem: it’s that their thoughts are often cyclical, repeating something from earlier in the game, talking round subjects rather than attacking them. To our tastes, the circumvention got a little tiring.
More so, I get into some knotty territory with Ao and Bo. Their situation is clearly emotionally wrought – they love each other, but visas and a lack of money mean they will have to separate, at least in the short term. I feel for their situation, and it makes me reflect on when I left university. I’m in complete lockstep with the feelings they have on how daunting it is to move into careers, relationships, kids. But Ao and Bo push that sympathy to extreme lengths. They complain about never having time to do anything, while also being aimless and filling their time with moping and computer games (and who would do that?). They talk endlessly about doing the dishes but don’t actually do it. They worry about a lack of money, but have no eagerness to find jobs, all while inexplicably paying for London rent. I’m not saying they should ‘pull themselves up by their bootstraps’, but some self-awareness wouldn’t hurt.
Ao and Bo dip into conversations about mental health and their role in the gentrification of the area, so they acknowledge the nuances and contradictions to their arguments. But they are only acknowledgements, and we came out of No Longer Home frustrated with Ao and Bo, feeling a disconnect with them when – I think – I was meant to sympathise with them. Horses for courses here, as you might empathise more than we did. We’re grumpy and millennial, though, so our backgrounds are very different from Ao’s and Bo’s.
We’ve all been at crossroads in life, where it’s not clear where paths lead, or if they are paths at all. No Longer Home captures the fear and potential of those moments perfectly, delivering a narrative-driven experience that makes you feel intensely.
In its experimentation, it managed to lose our empathy for the main characters, as we got tossed around on some cyclical dialogue. But even with that critical issue, No Longer Home is a woozy, experimental and magical dream that dredged up our own memories of a similar time. If you’ve ever felt lost and unsure of what the future might hold, then No Longer Home will keep you in good company.
You can buy No Longer Home for £12.49 from the Xbox Store for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S
- Fantastic sense of space and room transitions
- Streaks of magic realism that work well
- Well written and immersive
- We lost our connection with the main characters
- Length and longevity are an issue
- Dodges some of its own meatier issues
- Formats - Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC, Switch
- Version reviewed -Xbox One on Xbox Series X
- Release date - 7 Oct 2021
- Launch price from - £12.49